In 2015 I was arrested in the Bronx and charged for a crime I did not commit. The judge in the case, at the prosecution’s urging, set my bail at $70,000. At the time, I was living in a homeless shelter—how could I possibly make that type of bail? Of course I wasn’t supposed to make it. Although bail is supposed to simply be collateral in order to ensure a person returns to court, too frequently, as it was in my case, money bail is used to hold people in jail in order to force them into copping out in order to end the case. But I refused. They were trying to put me in prison for the rest of my life and I was innocent. I spent the next 18 months on Rikers Island, fighting just to get my day in court.

The biggest issue in my case, in addition to the high bail, was discovery—the evidence. I knew I was innocent and that all I needed to exonerate myself was for the evidence in the case to get in front of the judge. However the prosecutor in my case, under the administration of Bronx District Attorney Robert Johnson, took advantage of New York’s weak discovery law and withheld crucial evidence that they knew would set me free. I was being accused of serious violent felonies that I knew I did not do. I fired three lawyers in my case because they couldn’t get their hands on these records; only later did I learn it was the prosecutors obstructing justice, not my own attorneys.

Finally I forced the case to trial. Just before trial the judge requested redacted and unredacted copies of the emergency room records that related to my case, which included only exculpatory evidence that validated my position of innocence. The prosecutor should have dropped the case but refused to and eventually the judge just dismissed it. Every piece of evidence in the entire case, hospital records and surveillance videos, exonerated me. The prosecutor in my case knew this the entire time I was in jail, but rather than dismiss the case, they tried to coerce me into taking a plea, in order to secure a conviction. That is not justice. While this happens to all kinds of people, it mostly affects Black people and people of color.

When I left court that day, the judge told me to go back to my normal life, but that life had been taken from me. I had lost my housing, all my possessions. My life was forever changed. I still cannot sleep at night, traumatized from the year and a half I spent in the notorious Rikers Island. Ever since that moment I have been fighting for criminal justice reforms, particularly to end money bail and pass discovery reforms, with community organizations like VOCAL-NY.

Currently the bills we are pushing in the legislature have broad public support, but district attorneys, as usual, are working to kill these important reforms—just like they block justice in the courtroom. But we may finally be seeing a change. Last month I was in Albany at the New York State Association of Black and Puerto Rican Legislative Conference where I ran into Darcel Clark, now the district attorney in the Bronx. At the event she publicly committed to supporting our discovery bill and afterwards agreed to a meeting with me in person.

Our bill is sponsored in the Senate by Jamaal Bailey and in the Assembly by Joe Lentol. The bill is also supported by every single state senator in the Bronx, as well as Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, who said he wants criminal justice reform to be his legacy in Albany. We really need Bronx District Attorney Darcel Clark to follow through with her public statements to support her elected colleagues in the Bronx in passing this bill. Our borough needs these reforms and we also need elected officials working together for the Bronx. For too long district attorneys have worked to block reforms. Clark has an opportunity to change that tradition and stand up for people’s rights at the same time. I hope to see her do this shortly and look forward to our meeting.

Derryl Herring is a community leader at VOCAL-NY.